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Planting season


Invest in a few packets of seeds and your garden can be filled with vivid colour all summer, writes Marie Staunton

Sowing seeds is probably the most satisfying job a gardener can do. Take, for example, a sweetpea seed: one seed produces a plant which, in turn, will produce enough beautifully scented flowers to fill a vase.

The secret is to keep snipping off the flowers and more will come. For the price of a few packets of seeds, the garden can be filled with colour the whole summer long.

I like going through the whole process of sowing seeds and bringing them full circle from seed to flowering plant and then, of course, back to seed again.

This is one of the easiest ways to get children involved in gardening, and the quicker the seed geminates and flowers, the better they will like it.

If you have a bit of a veg patch, then put in things such as scarlet runner beans, sunflowers, nasturtiums and onions.

These are quick to grow, and will hold children's attention for more than five minutes, which is a major plus in my book.

Some seeds with hard outer casings will need a bit of help to hurry up the germination process. Chipping or nicking the shell will allow water to penetrate -- this is a major requirement of a seed to start the germination process.

Soaking the seeds of peas and beans overnight will also speed things along -- soak the seeds in slightly tepid water for 12 hours and then sow them either directly into the ground or into small pots.

If you're going away for a weekend, trying to get the seeds going is a bad idea, unless your neighbour is into gardening too and doesn't mind watering them for you.

Seeds want to germinate, and if you provide the right conditions then all will be well.

If you are starting them off in a glasshouse, watch out for slugs and snails as they love lush new growth and will demolish the lot if you're not vigilant.

Seeds need consistency in both heat and moisture, and a dribble of water now and again is a recipe for disaster. So stick a reminder on your fridge door to water them every day.

If you are using seed trays, make sure they have been washed thoroughly and then fill the trays with a nice seed compost.

It's not a good idea to use compost that is rich in fertiliser, as this will kill the little seedlings. Use a mix of seed compost and grit and this will do the job nicely.

Firm the mix into the tray and water in. Sow the seeds evenly over the surface. Cover with a fine dusting of compost, then a covering of coarse sand -- about 5cm will do grand.

If the seeds are large, then water them from above; if they are tiny then place the tray in a few centimetres of water and leave it for a few minutes to soak up some water.

Most seeds sown at this time of the year need a temperature of just under 20°C to germinate and this is where a little mini propagator comes into its own. They cost from €30 upwards, so it's an investment but one well worth thinking about.

I love lots of different types of flowers in my garden and I tend not to follow trends. I like old-fashioned flowers that my nana grew, such as wallflowers and poppies, and I make no apologies for the haphazard look of my flower beds during summer.

Perfectly kept gardens are wonderful to look at in magazines, but the reality is that kids play football, dogs bury and dig up bones, cats sleep on -certain plants and hens peck at anything that moves.

So, enjoy the garden for what it is and don't get too upset if your sweetpeas don't turn out to be award winners at the local horticulture show.

Even if the stems are crooked, the scent will be gorgeous.

My scarecrow made a bad job of scaring anything away last year, so I'm thinking of going down the route of a scary bird of prey, or maybe, a Long John Silver type of character with the bird of prey on its shoulder.

I'm pulling out all the stops to guarantee that I get at least one bowl of strawberries from my veg patch this year.

Weekend Magazine